Japan likes a good fad diet as much as any developed nation. As the U.S. has nibbled its way through the grapefruit diet, the Atkins diet and the Paleo diet, Japan has sampled the konnyaku diet, the morning banana diet and the hot pepper diet. The next trend in get-thin-quick schemes appears to be the enzyme diet (酵素ダイ).
There are dozens of varieties of kouso (enzyme) drinks, many packaged in tall glass bottles and labeled with ornate kanji that make them look like a bit like fancy liqueurs. There are enzyme drinks and tablets that tout natural ingredients such as papayas, brown rice and yeast. There are other drinks with vaguely sci-fi names like Ultraenzyme, Cosmic Enzyme and Neoenzyme.
The enzymes are taken diluted in water or gulped straight. They can be taken either as part of a fast, as a supplement to a reduced-calorie diet plan or simply along with regular meals. While they are all made by different companies and have varying ingredients, as a group, they make the usual wonder-supplement promises: easier weight loss, more energy, glowing skin.
Fermentation, an enzyme-driven reaction, has a long history as an important part of the Japanese diet. It’s what makes sake alcoholic and soy sauce flavorful and what has turned soy beans into natto, the sticky, stinky breakfast fuel of Japanese champions for the last thousand years or so. So it’s not such a stretch that people would continue to seek its health benefits, even — maybe especially — if it’s all in the form of a pale pink bottle with a heart on it or a cherry red liquid made from dozens of fruits, vegetables, herbs and seaweed.
A month’s supply runs from ¥730 for the papaya tablets to over ¥10,000 for a 720-ml bottle of Neoenzyme. Do they work? A website that ranks and compiles user feedback for different enzyme diet products has a space for “good” and “bad” opinions for each product. While each has its fans (“I’ve never had so much energy!”), quite a few also have comments like “I paid ¥18,000 for three bottles and barely lost a kilo,” and for another, “The taste made it undrinkable.”
What do you think? Are these pungent proteins really the way to get healthy? Or just another way to lose more money than weight?